In architecture, as well as just about any profession, there is a great deal of information to process, understand, and retain. The range varies from highly technical processes to subjective theories, to common-sense communications. With so many different forms of knowledge to process, understand, and retain, it becomes challenging to just rely on simple memorization.
Over the course of my career, I have developed cognitive skills to help me develop understanding and to retain and communicate the knowledge that I have gained. Specifically, these skills are based on making connections between things I encounter in the profession and everyday life. I have found if I do that, I can improve my ability to retain knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, recall that knowledge when I need it.
As a physical example, let's take the rather technical concept of resolving for reactions at supports of beams that are carrying a known load. This involves the calculations needed to sum moments (the force multiplied by the distance from a point). When I was first presented with this information in architectural school, it was a bit challenging to understand. What exactly are moments, and how do they relate to rotation of the beams at the supports? To help me lock-in to this, I experimented with a long stick with a weight suspended by a string. I was able to draw the load close to my hand (the support) and slide it further out to the end of the stick (away from the support). Doing this, I could see how different it felt in both positions. With the weight close to my hand, I could easily support it. The further the weight was moved toward the end of the stick, the more the load increased and was causing the support (my hand) to resist the force of the stick to rotate. With this simple physical example, I could better understand the concepts of resolving for moment loads on beams. That has stuck with me for the past 45 years, so I can tell you it works.
Now let's consider more of a "mental" example, specifically using analogies to make connections. My firm is a multi-disciplined practice with architects, interior designers, planners, landscape designers, and both structural and civil engineers. A few years back, we made a concerted effort to have each discipline manage their scope independently. The idea was to create a higher sense of ownership of the work being produced by each discipline. To a degree, this worked, but there were also some unintended consequences that resulted. After a while, we noticed that gaps were forming in work jointly produced by two or more disciplines. Basically, each discipline was drawing a boundary around what they were to do, and where the next discipline had to pick it up.
This was resulting in increases in errors and omissions in our work, and that was impacting our financial performance. As the lead principal in our company, I had to examine what was going on and try to explain it to others in a way that we all could understand and retain. The analogy that I came up with was "silo-ing." The classic silo used in agriculture was the mental picture that I needed not only for my understanding of the problems, but for the entire company. I used my example of silos to represent each discipline and the spacing of the silos represented the gaps in our collective work. The analogy caught on and soon each discipline was making efforts to eliminate silo-ing.
These physical and mental pictures are examples of cognitive concepts that have helped me make the connections that I need to learn, retain, and communicate the vast array of information that exists in the architectural profession.